Christmas: Ten Reflections on Salvation

As we enter our celebration of the birth of Christ, let me share a few personal reflections.

1. He came into the world, our savior, our salvation being a free gift by his grace for everyone.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Who did not receive him? Not the King, Herod. Nor the Jewish authorities. Nor anyone who knew of the coming of Messiah through the scriptures.  Israel and the world were alerted to the birth of the Messiah, not by prophets or priests, but by strangers, Gentiles, these wise men from the East. Herod’s advisors knew from the scriptures the place of birth was to be Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
   for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Yet no one from the court, neither Herod, nor the Jewish scribes, nor the Jewish leaders who awaited their messiah, nor anyone else, bothered to go to Bethlehem. Was it too far? Hardly. Bethlehem is only five miles from Jerusalem.

 

2. Although Jesus came to save the whole world, not all received him.

 The only ones who came to greet their savior were the shepherds. The shepherds were invited to the birth of  Jesus by an angel. They were going about their business tending their flocks. They responded to the angelic message with fear and trembling, but were energized to act on the good news. They exercised their faith and decided to go to Bethlehem at once. They interrupted their worldly business and hastened to the manger of their savior.

The innkeeper was invited to Jesus’ birth . He, like those caught up in their own works of the world, had no time for the birth of his savior. He was far too occupied with the hustle and bustle of his booming business, precipitated by the Roman census and the comcomitant crowds of pilgrims passing through Bethlehem. Thw world was too much with him, and he missed his opportuinity to greet and worship his Lord and God.

3. Jesus became a man as we could not–free of sin. He was a sinless man surrounded by a world of sin.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest,holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).

4. Jesus chose to be born in humble circumstances. He left his place in heaven, where he was surrounded and adored by hosts of angels. He stood up from his throne, took off his crown of glory, and condescended to become a man like us (being still fully God). He left his throne room and was born not in a royal palace of human creation, but amidst stable animals. He left the heavenly realm, and entered ‘our world’ (one he created) in a most humble setting– stable carved out of a cave.

5. The place of his birth, the stable, was not his;  it had to be borrowed from the Bethlehem innkeeper. So too at his death his final burial place as a man would be borrowed–a cave borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea.

6.  The angels rejoiced at his birth.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
    “Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 13-14)

 The angels, so used to worshipping and praising their Lord in heaven,  must have marvelled at their Lord and King so lovingly condescending to become a man, in fact a baby,  in a cave. His royal robes he exchanged for swaddling clothes–“swaddling clothes” indicated either rags or bandages. His  first worldly possessions, these swaddling clothes, would also be his last possessions as a man. Swaddling clothes enveloped him at his birth; burial bandages surrounded  his human body at his death and burial.

7. Contrary to the popular image of our household creches, the wise men were not present at the manger scene on the night of his birth; rather thay came to visit later, and presented their gifts to Jesus not in a stable, but in a house.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

8. At his incarnation, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of scripture. There were dozens of prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. We were told why Jesus would be born, how he would be born supernaturally,  and even where he would be born.

 Isaiah told us a child would be born who would take upon himself our sins.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have turned—every one—to his own way;
 and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

The first prophesy about Jesus is related in Genesis 3:15.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Here in Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we are told how his birth would be supernatural, through the seed of a woman. Seed is normally passed through the man, as the seed of Abraham.  This indication that the conqueror of Satan would spring from the seed of a woman plainly describes the supernatural incarnation of Jesus–the virgin birth.

Micah 3:2 told us where he would be born: in Bethlehem.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
       though you are small among the clans  of Judah,
       out of you will come for me
       one who will be ruler over Israel,
       whose origins  are from of old,
       from ancient times.

“Bethlehem” in Hebrew means “House of bread.” How fitting that Jesus, the bread of life, would be born in the House of bread. 

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. (John 6:51)

9. The mystery of the incarnation

God came into the world, took on human flesh in the person of Jesus yet remained fully God. Fully man, fully God. The incarnation is a mystery beyond human reason; we cannot fathom its depth, but  by the grace of divine revelation we can rejoice in it.

10. Christ’s full mission was not to be born and become man. His purpose was to die–for our sins. His mission was to become our sin and take our rightful punishment–death. Through his sacrifice we are justified in the eyes of God and by grace through faith we receive  the promise of eternal life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 6:23)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2)

What then is the lesson of the incarnation for us in our lives? As Christ was born only to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, so we as Christians are called to die. We are to die to our sins, die to our old life, die to our old self. We are called, and enabled  by the grace of God,  to become a new creation, to put sin behind us, repent and turn from our old sinful self. In Christ we are made new. In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our sins are forgiven.  Through the Holy Spirit, we are called and empowered to become like Christ for the purpose of giving glory to God the Father.

The world around us is filled with false philosophies and lying teachers who declare that all that we need is within our own power. All we need is a boost from below, a little self-help coaching or some extra spiritual effort to get us closer to God. They breed in men a false hope that we are either in no need of a savior or little gods ourselves and we can and ought shape our lives according to our own will. What the incarnation teaches us is that we are powerless on our own. God condescends to come down to us, undeserving as we are, and gives us his grace. Our salvation is not generated from below; it is a gift from above. As Christ came down from heaven to be born in Bethlehem so we too must be born “from above.”

Let us contemplate the miracle of the birth of Christ and how his birth, and his death and his burial and resurrection, call us to a faith in his work of salvation on this earth–a gift of his divine grace to the world and to each one of us who believe, repent and surrender our lives and put our trust in Jesus.

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Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 10:42 am  Comments (1)